With the Wii’s pointer-style controller capable of acting as a mouse for your TV, it’s no surprise that the late ’00s have seen a renaissance of early ’90s-style point-and-click adventure games. What is unexpected, however, is that these games are expanding to Microsoft and Sony’s consoles.
San Rafael-based Telltale Games, staffed partly by former LucasArts employees, has been the leader in the space, with humorous, well-written episodic games in the popular “Sam & Max” franchise, as well as titles based on “Wallace & Gromit” and “Strong Bad” characters. But that hasn’t stopped LucasArts, formerly the king of the genre, with titles such as “Maniac Mansion” and “Grim Fandango,” from re-entering the fray. Over the summer, the company dusted off one of its classics, “The Secret of Monkey Island,” for a rerelease on the PC and Xbox Live Arcade.
For the uninitiated, “The Secret of Monkey Island” was a 1990, PC game designed by Ron Gilbert, with writing from Dave Grossman and Sonoma native Tim Schafer. It revolves around the humorous exploits of overly earnest, aspiring pirate Guybrush Threepwood and his attempts to gain initiation into the brotherhood of pirates and battle the mythical ghost pirate LeChuck.
For the rerelease, dubbed “The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition” (rated E10+, $10 download on PC or Xbox 360), the folks at LucasArts have updated the game’s graphics, remastered the musical score and added voice acting. The historically curious, however, can hit the back button on the Xbox 360’s controller and play the game in its pixelated early ’90s glory (left).
Perhaps best of all, the remake adds a three-level hint system to the game. If you get stuck, you can hold down a button. The first time, the game will provide a vague hint. If your daft self still can’t figure out what to do, you can hold down the button a second time and get more detailed direction. If you still don’t get it, you can hold the button down a third time and the game will spell out exactly what you need to do and point you in the right direction with a big, yellow arrow.
The hint system may very well upset old people purists who spent dozens of hours playing the original, wandering between four locations trying to figure out how the heck they’re supposed to get the red herring away from that seagull. But those complainers are masochists. One of the most tedious aspects of the PC adventure game genre was its requirement that you endlessly scan each screen for some sort of clue, making sure to walk in every part of the screen you could possibly get to, in hopes of triggering every last little event. Some people no doubt enjoy painstakingly trying to use every last item in their inventory on every other item in hopes of creating the combination of ingredients that yields success, but there are no doubt other folks who just want to play a funny, well-written adventure game for a few hours. The hint system ensures both sides are happy. (For what it’s worth, I fall somewhere in the middle of these two camps.)
As for that well-written adventure game, it’s just as funny and essential as it no doubt was back in the day, even if a few of the gameplay elements have become somewhat dated. A sharply written game will be worth playing in any decade, and the voice acting in this remake, from actors who worked on later “Monkey Island” games, is spot on. Naturally, “Monkey Island: Special Edition” is still a point-and-click adventure game, meaning you’ll be using your brain, not your reflexes. If you primarily play twitchy shooters or open-world action games, “Monkey Island” won’t convert you. But if you like a good puzzle and witty repartee, even if you don’t consider yourself a “gamer,” you’ll find plenty to like.
If, after finishing the game, you want more, Telltale has been releasing chapters in a new series set in the same universe. “Tales of Monkey Island” (above) which brings back Grossman and several other “Monkey Island” vets, is available on WiiWare for $10 an episode, of which two are available. (If you’re not sure how to download WiiWare games, here’s a link to Telltale’s guide.) On the PC, you can subscribe to the whole set of five planned episodes for $35.
If you played the remake on the Xbox 360 and don’t want to play the new games on your PC, there’s always “Lucidity” (above). The brand new LucasArts adventure game releases Oct. 7 on Xbox Live Arcade and PC. It revolves around the dreams of a girl named Sofi, but instead of controlling the girl, you manipulate the environment to prevent her from coming to harm.